Each Monday, the Chronicle fires 10 questions at a Whanganui local. This week Liz Wylie talks to Whanganui photographer Gail Imhoff.
When did you first discover your love for photography?
I have always been interested in old family photographs and I have quite an extensive whānau archive back to the 1800s.
In about 2005 I went along to the Whanganui Camera Club to learn more about restoring old photos and ended up picking up the camera myself, and I haven't stopped since.
Do you have a favourite image from the many you have captured in the region?
I find it difficult to decide on just one favourite image as I love so many, though the one which has huge significance is an image of a hoe [paddle] going through the water.
Back in 2008 one of our kaumatua Rangitihi Rangiwaiata Tahuparae, known as Uncle Tahu, gave me the name Ngā Wai Paratiti for my first photography exhibition. Ngā Wai Paratiti representing anything that happens within the splash of the awa.
Uncle told me to go to the river and get a photograph of a hoe splashing the water. I was blown away with what I got and when I went to show him I said: "Uncle I don't know what I expected but I didn't expect this."
His response was "Why didn't you expect the water to do this, what did you expect the water to do? Now get to know the awa in all its moods and seasons."
This has been one of my major motivators to this day. I will continue to make photographs for as long as I can.
Your work is currently showing in the group exhibition Te Awa Reo at the Sarjeant Gallery. Was it hard to select work for the exhibition?
Yes, it was very difficult as I literally have hundreds of thousands of photographs and I often struggle to choose a specific photograph as I am too close to them. I invariably ask others to help me choose, as I did in this instance.
You seem to be always ready to capture significant or beautiful moments in Whanganui – do you always have your camera with you?
I always travel with my camera in the car as I never know when I may want to make photographs. My main passion is iwi, the awa and community. It is not uncommon if I don't actually have my camera on me for someone to say "Where is your camera, you look naked without it." In fact, a number of years ago I was going away for work for a couple of days and I got there to find that I had my camera bag but not my clothes so I had to do a bit of shopping.
You grew up in Raetihi – have you always lived in this region?
I was born and raised on a farm not far out of Raetihi but back then there were no buses in our rural area to get to college in Ohakune, so I spent five years at Whanganui Girls' College back in the 1960s.
I then went on to Palmerston North for a while when I started my teacher training which I didn't finish. I left and moved to Christchurch, where I worked as a pharmacy assistant for a few years.
While I was flatting, one of my flatmates worked at Lincoln College as a wool technician and I got to thinking "technician, technician, radio technician". So I went along to the NZBC radio station and asked about a job as a radio technician and was told that they didn't have women working as radio technicians. So I got a job in the office at the Edmonds factory for a few months, until one day I got a ring from the NZBC asking if I had ever considered working in television.
So I went and worked at television in the telecine area, which was loading up the films for the programmes and running them on a 10-second countdown from the control room. After a couple of years, I went along to the Human Resources Department and asked if I could become a film sound recordist. After a few months, I was given a position as a film sound recordist and worked on the news, current affairs and Country Calendar.
I moved to Wellington about one month before the Avalon television centre opened. I worked out of there for a few years before I left in 1979.
I moved to Queensland on my way to my big overseas experience. I met my late husband Gary Imhoff in a small town called Mundubbera and we moved back to Raetihi in 1981. In 1999 I moved to Whanganui and worked at the hospital for 15 or so years in various administration positions, in Māori Mental Health, Surgical Services and Māori Health until 2014.
Apart from all the photographic opportunities, what are the things you most love about living here?
I love living in Whanganui as there is so much to do in the community, the friendliness of the community, the diverse community, the city, the arts community, the Musicians Club, the various events, the awa, and North Mole is one of my go-to places, You always bump into people that you know and it is not far to get back to Raetihi if I need to.
Do you have a favourite film?
I don't actually have a favourite film. I seldom watch movies these days as I am mostly working on my photographs. Although recently I have seen a couple of rerun films on TV which I enjoyed.
What are you reading right now?
I haven't done a lot of reading for some time as I tend to spend most of my time working on my photographs. Reading is something I intend getting back to. The last book I read was E2 by Pam Grout.
What is the best book you've ever read?
Ask That Mountain by Dick Scott.
You have had a rich and varied working life - is there a career option you didn't get to try?
I would have liked to try architecture. I always enjoyed drawing buildings and I think I had a good eye for design but girls were not encouraged towards the field when I was growing up.